DOJ to probe Minneapolis police


Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Wednesday morning that the Department of Justice (DOJ) will open an investigation into the policing practices of law enforcement in Minneapolis.

The investigation comes a day after a jury in Minneapolis found former city police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of two counts of murder and one count of manslaughter in the death of George Floyd last May.

“Although the state's prosecution was successful, I know that nothing can fill the void that the loved ones of George Floyd have felt since his death,” Garland said Wednesday morning.

“Yesterday's verdict in the state criminal trial does not address potentially systemic policing issues in Minneapolis.”

The DOJ under President Biden had been expected to use such "pattern or practice" investigations as the country grapples with police brutality, systemic racism and potential sweeping reforms.

The move tees up greater federal oversight of local police departments, giving the DOJ an avenue to bring civil suits against police departments with a pattern of using excessive force or discriminatory practices against certain groups of people, such as people of color or people with disabilities.

The result of such an investigation is often a consent decree that effectively gives the DOJ oversight of local police departments for years at a time. 

“I have been involved in the legal system in one way or another for most of my adult life. I know that justice is sometimes slow, sometimes elusive and sometimes never comes,” Garland said on Wednesday.

“We undertake this task with determination and urgency knowing that change cannot wait.”

Speaking with reporters after Garland's announcement, a senior DOJ official said career staff at the agency began assessing the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) during Chauvin's trial, but held off announcing their investigation so as not to influence the outcome of the trial.

The official added that MPD was informed of the investigation Wednesday morning.

Minneapolis City Council members later released a statement saying it supports the DOJ investigation, pledging to act as full partners.

"We welcome the opportunity for the Department of Justice to use the full weight of its authority to hold the Minneapolis Police Department accountable for any and all abuses of power," the council members said in a statement on Twitter.

Consent decrees have long been one the department's most effective tools when it comes to stemming civil rights violations around the country, though their use flatlined under the Trump administration.

In 2018, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo restricting the use of consent decrees, requiring senior DOJ leadership to sign off on them and including an expiration date, rather than leaving them in place until a court terminates the agreement.

Garland rescinded the restrictions on Friday in a memo of his own, saying, “We will continue the Department’s legacy of promoting the rule of law, protecting the public, and working collaboratively with state and local governmental entities.”

DOJ is currently enforcing 12 different consent decrees and is investigating three other police departments. A senior DOJ official told reporters on Wednesday that the department will open more if they are recommended by career staff.

Pattern or practice reviews had been used more extensively in the Obama administration, which kicked off investigations into policing practices in Baltimore, Seattle, and Ferguson, Mo.

Despite their effectiveness, pattern or practice reviews and consent decrees won’t placate Democratic lawmakers' desire to pass their wide-reaching police reform bill, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

In the aftermath of the verdict being read in downtown Minneapolis late Tuesday afternoon, multiple Black Democrats made this point, saying that Chauvin’s conviction signaled accountability, but not justice.

“This is just the first step,” Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said after the verdict was announced. “We are hopeful that today will be the catalyst to turn the pain, the agony, the justice delays into actions that go far beyond today.”

First-term Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) added: “We want our children to grow up; we want to survive. We want to have the same quality of life as other folks get.”

“And so this verdict is a step. It's a popping of the lock, to be able to get to the place where we can open the door, and really start to do the work to save lives.”

President Biden’s budget tasks the Justice Department with carrying out a number of police reforms, including further implementing the First Step Act, which is designed to reduce recidivism and prison populations.

The budget proposal includes $300 million toward community policing and helping diversify police forces to mirror the communities they serve. That includes funding for racial sensitivity and implicit bias training and training on hate crimes, which are often underreported by police.

“Bold action is required to reform the federal criminal justice system so that it serves and protects all Americans,” the White House said in the budget summary.

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